There’s so much on TV and streaming channels these days, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. However, a new Netflix show caught my attention, and it’s a terrific mix of comedy and female empowerment themes.
GLOW, created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, is inspired by a real life women’s wrestling show in the 1980s called Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The show is fun, has lots of conflict, and transports the viewer into the forgotten world of spandex, big hair, and songs by Journey.
In my work with clients who want to write for TV, we often talk about how to structure a comedy pilot.
What I love about the opening episode of GLOW is that because it’s not a network show (which creates the necessity for act breaks for commercials,) the story is basically structured in 3 acts (just like a feature script) with a hook at the end.
For those of you who have a secret (or not so secret) dream to write a TV show, here’s a breakdown of how the plot is structured in the pilot.
We see Ruth’s life as an out of work actress. She prepares for an audition by reading the man’s part instead of the woman’s. She wants to play serious roles, not just secretaries. When she doesn’t get the part, she waits in the women’s bathroom for the casting agent. Ruth asks the agent what she’s doing wrong. The casting agent says she brings Ruth in because the directors all say they want someone “real,” but really, they don’t. Ruth begs the agent to help her get a job. The agent asks if she wants to do porn. Ruth says no.
Ruth races to join her friend Debbie in aerobics class. Debbie gave up acting to have a baby with her husband. The two women miss hanging out together.
Ruth gets a message from the casting agent about a call for “unconventional women.” It’s not porn.
ACT I TURNING POINT
Ruth goes to the casting call and meets the director, Sam Silva. He’s making a cable show about women wrestlers. Girl on girl fighting.
Ruth does her best in the audition, trying to give herself a “backstory” and makes it through the first cut. She calls her parents to ask for 23 dollars so she can eat and pay her phone bill.
A guy sneaks in her window. She tells him to leave. She says what they did is a mistake. He’s married. He reminds her they are both people who hang around with shiny people but never get to be shiny themselves. She has sex with him.
The next day at the callback, Sam says he’s cutting to 12 women. Once again, Ruth tries to do the rolling and punching, while spewing dramatic dialogue. He tells her she didn’t get the part. She argues. He tells her to get out.
Crushed, she eats a taco. She’s attacked by a bunch of kids on skateboards. They take her taco, and her purse. She’s lame, incapable of fighting back. They get away.
She’s forced to call Debbie to come pick her up. As her friend drives her back home, Ruth realizes the skateboard thieves got her house key. Debbie says she still has Ruth’s key to her apartment. Ruth digs it out of Debbie’s purse and discovers it’s on a keychain with a photo of Debbie and her husband. We see that Debbie’s husband is the guy Ruth is sleeping with.
At a scene study workshop, Ruth plays the role of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Her acting teacher falls asleep.
She’s a total failure, cries.
ACT II TURNING POINT
Ruth goes home and watches Hulk Hogan on TV. She’s inspired. Decides to make one more try to get onto the wrestling show.
She starts practicing wrestling moves in her apartment (funny montage.)
She shows up at rehearsal with a full costume/makeup, and starts acting badly, trying to get Sam to cast her. She’s terrible. It looks like she’s going to fail again, when Debbie shows up, fuming. She’s found out that Ruth slept with her husband. She attacks Ruth in the middle of the ring. Ruth runs away, apologizing, but her friend won’t let her go. Debbie slaps her. Ruth throws an elbow. No one can look away. It’s riveting.
As the women have a lame girl fight, Sam imagines them fighting in full big hair, and sexy costumes, doing real wrestling moves. It’s incredible.
We cut back to the two real women, on the floor of the ring, weakly slapping each other. But by the look on Sam’s face, we know he’s going to cast them both in the TV show.
TAKE ACTION! See how simply the pilot for GLOW is structured? It’s basically 3 acts with all the same landmarks/turning points as a feature film. Let’s see the character in her ordinary world. Get the call to adventure. Fight to achieve her goal. Fail. Then get another chance. What’s the climax where it seems the protagonist will fail one more time? How why/does she succeed? How can this moment launch the whole premise of the show and pull viewers to episode 2?
Have fun plotting your pilot script!
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